Greensboro should be something of a proving ground in 2022. The Grasshoppers will have a couple of undoubted top prospects, but there likely will be a lot of players who have significant upside but who need to up their games a little to take an unequivocal step onto the prospect track. It’s a contrast to the 2021 team, which was dominated by a handful of top ten types.
Here is the look at Bradenton if you missed last week’s start to this series:
I already pointed out a week ago that Bradenton will probably be graduating some hitters who’ll be coming off seasons that had good and bad in them. They’ll be moving out of the pitcher-dominated environment of what used to be the Florida State League, into one that probably leans a little on the hitter side. Not only that, there’s the extreme home run ballpark in Greensboro, with the very short power alleys and left- and right-center. The range of possible outcomes here is huge.
One important thing to keep in mind with the (would-be) Bradenton graduates is their ages. The Marauders had easily the league’s youngest group of hitters. Among league hitters with at least 117 ABs, Alexander Mojica was the third youngest, Maikol Escotto the fourth and Dariel Lopez the sixth. In addition, Hudson Head was the 17th youngest, Sammy Siani 19th, and Jase Bowen 25th. Mojica’s OPS was 51 points below league average, but Escotto and Bowen were only slightly below, Lopez slightly above, and Head and Siani comfortably above. Taking their ages into account, this group mostly did well, not badly.
Well, I’m going to posit that Henry Davis opens 2022 at Altoona. I don’t think that would be a radical move at all. Adley Rutschman played only 37 games below AA, Spencer Torkelson only 31. Davis isn’t regarded quite as highly as they were, but by all accounts he’s extraordinarily dedicated and hard-working.
So that would leave Endy Rodriguez and Abrahan Gutierrez at Greensboro, and possibly Eli Wilson. It was late coming, but Rodriguez finally seems to be getting some buzz for the season he had in 2021. In a league where strikeouts were off the charts, he put up a 50:77 BB:K while greatly increasing the power, which was supposed to be the weakest part of his game. And he probably can play anywhere the Pirates put him, except shortstop. I think we’ll see him a lot at second and first; he’s looked very good when I’ve seen him at the latter spot. Gutierrez has spent two years in Low-A. This year he hit .290 with more walks than strikeouts, so it’s hard to see what sending him back would accomplish, at least on offense. The Pirates apparently want to see his receiving improve.
Wilson tore up Low-A in 2021, but struggled in limited time at Greensboro. He didn’t get a ton of playing time overall, so it’s not that clear what “track” the Pirates have him on. He’s mostly done well so far, so you’d expect the Pirates to find him playing time somewhere, maybe even Altoona.
The infield should break down mainly into two groups: The guys coming up from Bradenton, with the key ones being young players from Latin America, and 2021 college draftees. The assignments for both groups could be a bit unpredictable.
To start with, one wild card could be Jacob Gonzalez, whom the Pirates picked up in the minor league Rule 5 draft. He has some power, but obviously has other issues or he wouldn’t have been available. He’s played first and third, but has had excruciating error problems at the latter. He could see time at first.
The international guys at Greensboro could be Dariel Lopez, Maikol Escotto and Alexander Mojica. Of the three, Lopez is easily the least likely to stay in Bradenton, Mojica maybe the most likely. Lopez did reasonably well at Bradenton, apart from error problems that were a lot worse than the usual low-minors stuff. Lopez has good power to right-center, so the short power alleys (really no power alleys) at Greensboro could be a bonanza for him. Escotto and Mojica had contrasting issues at the plate. Escotto chased the slow stuff too much, while Mojica was very passive at times and passed up good pitches to hit. Lopez and Escotto will probably spend time at both second and short, and Lopez will probably play a lot at third. My guess is Escotto will be the primary shortstop, if he’s in Greensboro. Mojica is a third baseman at this point, but he’s not going to stay there unless he improves his conditioning, something he’s reportedly trying to do this offseason. The Pirates seemed reluctant to play him at first much in 2021, but that could change.
The most likely college draftees to end up in the Greensboro infield are fifth-rounder Jackson Glenn and sixth-rounder Mike Jarvis. Both were seniors who signed well under slot, but they shouldn’t be written off as organizational guys. Glenn was one of the more highly regarded seniors available in the draft and hit .337 with good plate discipline and gap power at Bradenton, while playing mostly second. He’s 24 now, so it’s not improbable that he could be assigned to Altoona. Or he could move up if somebody, like Nick Gonzales, gets a mid-season promotion. (A tangential issue here is that the Pirates need to start finding out ASAP, at the major league level, about guys like Diego Castillo, Tucupita Marcano and Hoy Park, or it could start getting really tight in AAA.) Jarvis is a speedy guy who went 11-for-11 as a base stealer in the equivalent of about a tenth of a season in 2021. He also showed some power, and finished the season at Greensboro. He’s likely to play all over.
The outfield should look the same as the one that finished the season for the Marauders. This is another group of players who’ve shown potential, but all of whom need to take a step forward. Specifically, they all struck out a lot in 2021.
The “veteran” here should be Jack Herman. He opened 2021 at Greensboro but had a very rough time. After going to the FCL to rediscover his swing, he finished at Bradenton. He finished seventh in the league in home runs despite playing less than half a season there.
The marquee talent in the outfield, at least in theory, is Hudson Head. In 2021, he showed the range of tools the Pirates expected, tying for third in home runs and finishing ninth in OBP and slugging. He had trouble, though, with swing decisions, and got called out on strikes a lot. Most of his trouble was with LHPs, against whom he hit .097. I can’t help wondering whether, due to the prospect-laden Bradenton roster, the fact that he played only about two-thirds of the time contributed to some of the struggles.
The other two principal outfielders should be Sammy Siani and Jase Bowen. Siani modified his approach at the plate, going from a line drive hitter to a strict pull hitter who waits for a pitch to drive. The result was a ton of walks and strikeouts. The ratio was good — 52 walks to 63 strikeouts — but he put the ball in play only a little over half the time. Siani did hit eight longballs in less than half the season, as he lost a lot of time to injury. Bowen also modified his approach to try to drive the ball more and hit just one less home run than Head. Unlike Head and Siani, he didn’t walk much. Bowen played mostly second until mid-season, then shifted to center after injuries and demotions depleted the outfield.
Daniel Rivero could be with the Hoppers, too. He played a lot in the second half of 2021, especially with Siani hurt. He actually didn’t strike out much, and even had more walks than Ks, but didn’t hit the ball with much authority. He probably has the best outfield arm in the system.
Unlike Bradenton, Greensboro could have a number of pitchers who profile mainly as relievers. So this time I’ll break the pitchers down between “starters,” which includes guys who likely will be in piggyback roles, and relievers. With one exception, this staff doesn’t have the Priesters and Contrerases, but there should be a great many good arms.
The big exception, of course, is Jared Jones. If you’ve read that his stuff is electric, believe it. He had one four-inning start in which he faced 14 hitters and fanned 11 of them. The strike zone came and went on him now and then, and he threw only 66 innings, so workload management will no doubt be a priority. But he fanned 14 per nine innings while making his pro debut as a 19-year-old in full-season ball.
My choice for the #2 pitcher to watch at Greensboro is Luis Ortiz. In fact, he’s my choice for the most underrated pitcher in the system. He misses a lot of bats and he dominated over the last three months of 2021 as he started throwing strikes consistently.
Two Bradenton pitchers had very similar 2021 seasons, at least until mid-season, when Santiago Florez got promoted and Adrian Florencio didn’t. That may have happened because Florez is Rule 5 eligible and Florencio isn’t. The promotion didn’t go well, as Florez got consistently torched with Greensboro. Some of it was the home run crazy environs there, but that wasn’t nearly all of it. I have to think he’ll get sent back. Florencio went on to become the Low-A Southeast Pitcher of the Year. His stuff isn’t overwhelming — he and Florez both get a lot of strikeouts with breaking balls — but at 6’6″ he should still have some projection.
A couple of 2020 college draftees could get a lot of innings. Third-rounder Nick Garcia, coming from Division III Chapman University, was thought to be a potentially high-reward pick for the Pirates, but he had just a solid season at Bradenton in 2021. His stuff wasn’t as expected, but he turned to pitching only as a college sophomore, so his experience is limited. At 5’10”, fifth-rounder Logan Hofmann didn’t exactly profile as a starter, but he was excellent in that role for the first couple months in 2021. After that he struggled more as his velocity tailed off.
Greensboro could have several wild cards. Eddy Yean was the primary return for Josh Bell and didn’t look the part in 2021 with the Marauders. Alternating between starting and long relief, he had command problems and actually had a below-average K rate. He’s still only 20 but is Rule 5 eligible, which seems pretty dumb. Valentin Linarez is a big guy who throws hard. He spent most of 2021 in the FCL and fanned over 14 per nine innings. He made two end-of-season starts for the Hoppers when they had some COVID problems and pitched reasonably well. I suppose he may go to Bradenton but I’m hoping he’ll get a shot at the higher level. Finally, there’s Ricky DeVito, who came in the Richard Rodriguez trade. He had a sore elbow at the time of the trade and didn’t pitch again; I assume the Pirates took a good look at the imaging. DeVito has potentially very good stuff — a splitter even! — so hopefully he’ll be ready to go at some level. His 2021 season consisted of five High-A starts, so I’m guessing he most likely heads back there.
The Greensboro bullpen should have some very interesting pitchers, but by far the most interesting — if he doesn’t disappear in the Rule 5 draft — is Oliver Mateo. He features an upper-90s fastball and a breaking ball that’s literally just about unhittable, but he’s mostly been undermined by severe control problems. That issue started shifting to just bad control after the first couple months of 2021 and Mateo started dominating. On the year, opponents hit .135 against him and he fanned 19.6 per nine innings. The control is still going to have to get better, but it’s almost sad watching people try to hit him.
A bunch of college draftees could play a role in this bullpen. Tyler Samaniego somehow made it to round 15 in 2021 despite being a 6’4″ lefty who gets into the mid-90s. He dominated in a brief stint for the Marauders. Justin Meis, a 2021 tenth-rounder who features a tough, swing-and-miss breaking ball, also had a good debut with the Marauders. Cameron Junker, drafted in round 10 in 2019, got a mid-season promotion to Greensboro in 2021 but got hurt after three outings. He missed a ton of bats, so hopefully he’ll be back in 2022. Jack Hartman was the Pirates’ fourth-round pick in 2020 but he has yet to pitch as a pro. He had Tommy John surgery the year he signed. Hartman is a high-spin guy who seemed a good candidate to move quickly as a reliever. Given the timing of the TJ, he should be ready for 2022.
A couple other potential wild cards for Greensboro are Michell Miliano and Darvin Garcia. Miliano came from the Padres in the Adam Frazier trade. He’s a live-armed reliever who misses lots of bats and lots of strike zones. He was awful for the Hoppers after the trade (11.7 BB/9), so he’ll probably go back there. Garcia was impressive in relief in the FCL in 2021. I’m guessing the Pirates might jump him up to Greensboro because he signed at age 20 and will turn 23 early in the 2022 season.